Lower tuition fees not best choice: Dexter

Premier chooses to fund debt cap and tax rebates instead

Premier Darrell Dexter. Photo: Ken Wallingford

The premier of Nova Scotia wants to reduce student debt and keep young people in the province, but he has no immediate plans to lower tuition.

Darrell Dexter says that approach to assisting university and college students doesn’t benefit everyone equally.

“It disproportionately benefits people who have more means, who come from higher income levels, who come from provinces with better student loan programs,” said Dexter. “It means that our own students who are relying on better student assistance programs don’t get them because there is not enough money to go around.”

Tuition fees will continue to rise with the consumer price index, the premier said, adding that universities are not excluded from the economic forces.

“Wages of professors continue to rise, the cost of materials continue to rise,” said Dexter. “Everybody should expect that those increases in cost will mean there will be increases in tuition… This is no different to what will happen in every aspect of students’ lives.”

Though his government’s focus isn’t on the province’s average $5,934 tuition fee, the third highest in the country, it has put “more than $90-million into student assistance, into collapsing student debt, into creating more affordable education.”

By investing in tax rebates, such as the Graduate Retention Rebate, Dexter hopes more students will be interested in staying in the province after graduation. 

The Graduate Retention Rebate started in 2009 and ideally helps students to pay down their debts, although they can use the money for anything. Students can apply for the rebate for a duration of six years after graduating, as long as they stay in the province. University graduates can reduce their income taxes by $2,500 per year, while college graduates can have a reduction of $1,250 per year.

The provincial government has also funded a debt cap, which prevents students from accumulating more than $28,560 in debt. To qualify, students must be in a four-year program, but their eligibility is also assessed by the Nova Scotia Student Assistance Office.

“One of the things that debt caps do, and these kinds of rebates do is they allow people not just to get on to pay their debts, but to begin their lives,” Dexter said. “I want young people to be able to begin not only their working lives, but the rest of their lives, too.”

Personal life

Dexter grew up in a working class family, and paid for his education entirely through student loans. Although he doesn’t remember how much his tuition was, he said he does remember his debt load. 

The premier went to the University of King’s College for journalism, and Dalhousie University for education and law. The debt he had was combined with that of his wife, whom he met in university and who also used student loans to pay for school.

“We put off for 10 years ever thinking about whether we could buy a house or own a car or start a family, because we just knew that with the level of debt that we had we weren’t going to be able to do that,” he said. 

Premier Darrell Dexter believes lowering tuition won’t solve student debt issues. Photo: Ken Wallingford

While Dexter does believe that the debt cap and tax rebates are the most effective solution to students’ financial problems, he said that his government is prepared to lower tuition as soon as it can.

“What we will do is we’re committed to ensuring that as our ability as a government increases, as we get more money, that we will commit ourselves to solidifying tuition, bringing it down, making it more competitive,” said Dexter, adding that he hopes when he leaves office that he put students in a better position than a worse one.

“Currently the province is running a $250-million deficit. If we increase that, then the very students in school today will graduate and they will see higher taxation rates and lower service levels as a result of those decisions,” said Dexter. 

“There has to be a balance. What we’re trying to do, striving to do, struggling to do is to make sure that we get that right balance.”

 

Below is a condensed version of the interview of Darrell Dexter. Click on a question to skip to that part of the video. (Video: Ken Wallingford)

Questions:

  1. How do you plan on harnessing the student vote?
  2. How did you think the tax rebate program would work for students?
  3. Why wouldn’t you instead move that money towards grants or lowering tuition?
  4. Why don’t you think that since freezing tuition fees worked for Newfoundland, it wouldn’t it work for Nova scotia?
  5. How would you address the problem of people leaving after they graduate?
  6. How do you plan on lowering student debt?
  7. Will the university tuition fees continue to rise?

 

 
 

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